Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Air Power Infatuation (1967 All Over Again)

I've been thinking a lot about the new Miyazaki film -- The Wind Rises -- and the questions it raises for us about whether we can enjoy the thrill of new technology without being sucked into the evil things done with that technology.

Part of this is being honest with ourselves: what is it about flight that is so intoxicating? There are so many cultural expressions of our love of airplanes and everything they represent . . . .

And lo and behold! this morning WFMT started playing a series of classical compositions inspired by airplane flight and other technology. There are a whole series of works dating from the 1920s onward that express how shockingly new these flying machines have felt, and how exhilarating it has been to associated with them.

Somehow my thoughts progressed from George Antheil (Ballet mecanique, Piano Sonata No. 2 ("The Airplane") to Karlheinz Stockhausen (Helikopter Streichquartett) to John Adams (Short Ride in a Fast Machine) . . . until I landed on that most pure, popular expression of the joy of flight, practically the anthem of my childhood:  "Up, Up, and Away" performed by The Fifth Dimension.


Here, I thought, is the feeling that Miyazaki is talking about in The Wind Rises. "Don't talk to me about all the airborne violence that the modern age has brought," he seems to be saying. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
And then I thought about 1967, the year "Up, Up, and Away" was released, and the irony of the real face of air flight in 1967.


I recently read the article on the Huey helicopter in The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects. Iconic, deadly, transformative ....

Please watch the helicopter attack scene from Apocalypse Now. Just as people in the '60s were intoxicated with the sights and sounds of the latest technologies like the Huey helicopter gunship -- "The Ride of the Valkyries" - get it? -- and people in 1920s Japan were thrilled with the new fighter planes that could go 200 miles per hour, people in the 2010s are being lured into the next generation of air power infatuation: call it "drone love."  And just as Francis Ford Coppola so brilliantly realized, many of us can watch the footage over and over again, without even seeing the suffering of the people on the ground.

We need film and music and the other arts to keep turning our attention back to the truth.  Despite the fact that creative expression can sometimes be confusing, distracting, or even misleading, it does tend to keep bringing us back to the deep questions, and to open our eyes to what we were unable to see just yesterday.

The creative resistance to drone warfare is just beginning . . . .


Related posts

I'm trying to understand: "What was Hayao Miyazaki thinking (when he made his latest animated film, The Wind Rises)?" How can this most humane (and antiwar) of artists created an homage to the creator of the Japanese Zero fighter plane?

(See Boys and Their Toys (Trying to Understand "The Wind Rises"))


More than anything, I have a visceral memory of lying in the grass in Lincoln Park as a jet streaked east towards the lake, and the thought occurred to me, "This would be terrifying if I were a rice farmer in a paddy somewhere and I didn't know what this is all about." Yes, I confess, up until that moment, I had approached the Chicago Air & Water Show with very little perspective, or awareness, or empathy for others.

(See I { love | hate } the Chicago Air & Water Show)


In his 1979 essay, "The Robot As Enemy," Isaac Asimov wrote, "Will human beings deliberately build robots without the Laws? I'm afraid that is a distinct possibility . . . " (p. 448). He specifically foresaw the exact developments in the robotization of the military that we are seeing today:
"computerized planes, tanks, artillery, and so on, that would stalk the enemy relentlessly, with superhuman senses and stamina. It might be argued that this would be a way of sparing human beings. We could stay comfortably at home and let our intelligent machines do the fighting for us. If some of them were destroyed -- well, they are only machines. This approach to warfare would be particularly useful if we had such machines and the enemy didn't." (p. 449) 
(See A Modest Proposal: Debate the Drones)